Erin Carr-Jordan went to a McDonald’s with her children this summer, and was horrified by the condition of the restaurant’s play area. The professor of child development then set out to shame the McDonald’s into cleaning up, posting a video she made showing her findings and the lab results of samples she took, showing a space teeming with pathogens and bacteria.
McDonald’s corporate finally got into the act, agreeing with the mother and explaining to the Los Angeles Times that the conditions were “unacceptable, completely unacceptable … but not reflective of our business and our restaurants” and that the company had “immediate corrective action to thoroughly sanitize the PlayPlace.” That might have qualified as a victory for most moms, but not Prof. Carr-Jordan. She began a full-fledged crusade, investigating McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants in 11 different states in recent months to test them for cleanliness. These were her family vacations: “Kids, forget about Walt Disney World. We’re going to spend the next three weeks going to filthy fast food joints!” What fun. She swabbed at each location and sent the samples off to a microbiology professor who analyzed the samples and usually stated his results as “OH—MY—GOD!!!!”
Recently, a visitor came to her house to deliver a letter from the attorneys representing the owner of the original filthy McDonald’s informing her that she was prohibited from entering any of his eleven McDonald’s…ever. He is within his rights, but consumers take note: there was a problem with the initial establishment Carr-Jordan visited, and if he cared about his customers, he should have sent her a bouquet of roses. She did him a favor…and, of course, every parent and child that might have been tempted to use the play area.
As for me, I don’t need any swabs to tell me that such places are the fast food equivalents of Typhoid Mary. Can you imagine what lurks in those ball pits? I don’t even like to think about it. And unless you hosed down the play areas every 15 minutes, I can’t see how they could ever be made safe from bacteria. I think a “play at your own risk” sign should be sufficient, as long as the proprietor doesn’t allow the bacterial equivalent of broken glass to linger.
Yes, Carr-Jordan is a zealot, and clearly wants to make certain that all play areas are too much trouble, so parents and kids have no options at all. Drawing attention to one sub-par McDonald’s is a public service; becoming a one-woman truth squad aimed at the chain…is it a service, or is it persecution? We know where this is headed, don’t we? We’ve seen it before: Carr-Jordan will soon have a group of concerned parents,m doctors and germaphobes demanding that play areas are sterile enough to eat pasta out of the ball pits, and some bureaucrat will have new and burdensome regulations installed to deal with a problem that nobody previously thought was a problem, probably after Congressional hearings that our courageous representatives will eager hold to avoid dealing with the deficit. Next McDonald’s will raise its prices to pay for the now bacteria-free play areas, then get sued by some parent who claims that her daughter got Ebola from a plastic Hamburgler. The suit will be a bust, but corporate will decide that the play areas, originally installed so that parents of small children could munch their Big Macs in relative peace, are no longer worth the expense and maintenance. Voila! No more play areas, no more germ tests, no play, no more peace.
Thanks a bunch, Prof. Carr-Jordan!
No, I’m not prepared to declare this mother unethical for carrying her concerns to extremes, but there are unethical aspects to her crusade. I think that there should be minimal standards of cleanliness in play areas, but I also think that parents should be able to make their own decisions about the dangers involved, and that when a utility that cannot both exist and be perfect is driven to extinction by someone demanding perfection, the ethical virtue of proportion is lacking.
The Arizona McDonald’s was unfair to ban her. Carr-Jordan’s conduct poses a tougher ethical question: when does seeking to make conditions better cause more harm than good? The only conclusion I can state with certainty is that you are not going to get the answer from the zealot doing the seeking.